Two years ago, Juan Bonilla said he was so naive about drug use he thought "almost everyone" was sampling this or that.

He freely told a San Diego reporter he had smoked his joints, popped his pills and done his cocaine, then added, "But who hasn't?"

A month later, the San Diego Padres released him, partly because he had stopped hitting and partly because, sources close to the team say, he was a little too cavalier about admitting drug use.

Today, on a cold, rainy Canadian day, in this year when he is getting yet another chance, Bonilla talked about his past.

"To be honest, I don't understand where people got the idea I had a drug problem," he said. "I didn't have one.

"I have tried drugs, and I've said that before. I was a small recreational user, but I wasn't chemically dependent. It doesn't make any difference to me now what I said, because I'm through with them.

"I'm clean now, and I'm gonna stay clean."

(A spokesman for Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said he was unaware of Bonilla's comments, but added, "I can't imagine he'll take any action.")

Five years after his professional roller-coaster ride began, Bonilla is back in the big leagues, as a utility infielder with the Baltimore Orioles. He came to spring training as a nonroster invitee and made the team, not only because he hit .286 in the exhibitions, but because he played both second and third base with such natural, graceful movements.

In this season when the careers of Kansas City's Dennis Leonard and California's Rick Burleson have been resurrected, Bonilla has been of value to the Orioles. Playing in five of their first seven games, he got the game-winning RBI in their first victory and has hit .300.

"It never crossed my mind I wouldn't make it back to the major leagues," he said. "Never.

"Why? Because I can play the infield with the best of 'em. I always knew that."

Even when his career was at its lowest point, in the summer of 1984, Bonilla said he knew he would be back. That was after the Padres released him and he went home to Quincy, Fla., hired a couple of kids from Florida State University to hit grounders and throw batting practice -- and waited for the telephone to ring.

"It hurt me only when I'd watch television," he said. "I'd see some guy playing in the major leagues, and I knew he wasn't as good as me. You start wondering, 'What's the deal here?' I have a wife and two kids to support."

Today, he speaks with such an air of cockiness that it is hard to believe he was ever close to failure. He wears silk shirts and gold chains, almost swaggers when he walks and has sent out more than a few messages that Orioles second baseman Alan Wiggins had better produce because there's someone waiting who will.

Bonilla says he feels comfortable back in the big leagues because that is where he belongs. Certainly, five years ago, it appeared he did, after he broke in with the Padres by hitting .290, striking out only 23 times in 407 plate appearances and getting named to the Topps All-Rookie team.

But early in 1982, he suffered a compound fracture of his left wrist in a first base collision with St. Louis' Willie McGee and spent four months on the disabled list.

With four months to kill, he got into trouble.

"It was a tough time for me because that was the first time I'd been seriously hurt," he said. "I made some mistakes."

His name showed up on some San Diego police wiretaps in connection with a drug dealer, and the police turned the information over to the Padres, who asked Bonilla to go through a rehabilitation program.

He did and returned to the team Sept. 19, ending with a .280 average, but the next year he dropped to .237 over a full season. The Padres were so unsure about him that they moved an outfielder named Alan Wiggins in to play second base the next spring, and when Bonilla didn't hit, he was released.

He didn't play at all in 1984, but that winter he was scouted and signed in Puerto Rico by the New York Yankees. He made that team last opening day, but when Manager Billy Martin was hired 16 games into the season, he promptly dispatched Bonilla to Columbus, Ohio.

"I don't know what Billy Martin has against me," Bonilla said. "I thought I was playing well, but when they sent me down I decided I'd make the most of it."

He led the International League with a .330 batting average, but that winter when Yankees owner George Steinbrenner needed a roster spot to complete a trade with the Chicago White Sox, he asked Bonilla to accept a Class AAA contract.

"If I'd stayed, I would have had a job," he said, "but I wanted back to play regularly in the big leagues, and with Willie Randolph at second, I didn't think it'd be with the Yankees."

He refused the contract and got his release from the Yankees -- in essence, his free agency. Four teams phoned, and he chose the Orioles, who say they had no reservations about signing him.

"He is in a testing program now and was in one last year," General Manager Hank Peters said. "It was a logical signing for us because we needed infield help and he was one of the best in the International League last year."

"The opportunity was good," Bonilla said. "I knew they'd just released two second basemen Rich Dauer and Lenn Sakata and I didn't know how happy they were with Wiggins [who, ironically, had also left San Diego after a battle with drugs]. Right now, I know I can play second base if I get the opportunity. I'm not here to take anyone's job, but Wiggins has to produce. I can also play third if that's what they want."

Still, he is not a regular player, and is playing third only until Floyd Rayford returns from the disabled list in a week or so. No matter. He turned 30 just before he reported to spring training, and said he has learned about the prices one must pay.

"When you're not playing, you have to work twice as hard," he said.

"Kurt Bevacqua formerly of the Padres told me that if everyone else is taking 100 ground balls, you have to take 200. The thing you have to do is be ready when your time comes. It's a long season, and everyone's time will come."